As of last year, Sultan Kösen was certified the tallest man by Guinness World Records, measuring an astonishing 8 feet, 1 inch tall (his actual height may be 8 feet, 4 inches but he measures shorter due to scoliosis and poor posture).
But the metaphorical honor still belongs to Swedish native Kristian Matsson, who travels the world as an Indie Folk troubadour under the banner of The Tallest Man on Earth. He may be nearly three feet shorter than the world’s actual tallest man, but Matsson’s talent, emotionally engaged lyricism and melodic gift puts him shoulder to shoulder with some of the giants of music.
Born in Leksand, Sweden in April 1983 (just four months after tallest man Kösen. Coincidence? Probably), Matsson studied Classical guitar as a teenager, but quickly became bored with the genre’s mathematical precision and abandoned his lessons. As a young adult, he formed the Garage Pop outfit Montezumas. After its break-up, he tested the water the following year with the release of a five-song debut EP under his The Tallest Man on Earth pseudonym. At that point, Matsson had no intention of maintaining an ongoing solo career, keeping his identity a complete secret.
The turning point came with the 2008 release of his debut full-length, Shallow Grave, which was almost universally praised and was cited as one of the year’s best albums by a number of media outlets. That buzz led Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon to invite Matsson to open for the band’s 2008 tour, which led to The Tallest Man on Earth’s first wide-scale solo tour and then a 2010 contract with Bloomington, Indiana’s Dead Oceans label. That same year, Matsson released his twin debuts for Dead Oceans — the sophomore full-length The Wild Hunt and the Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird EP, which featured his first recordings as The Tallest Man on Earth with an electric guitar.
Matsson’s third album, 2012’s There’s No Leaving Now, led to European and American touring, including an appearance at the prestigious Newport Folk Festival. His fourth album, 2015’s Dark Bird is Home, was primarily influenced by Matsson’s divorce and the death of a family member; the album also featured more complex arrangements and a greater array of instruments, a marked change in musical direction.
That shift was largely reflected in Matsson’s latest release and first new album in four years, I Love You. It’s a Fever Dream. Although Matsson was exposed to Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie as a teenager, he insists that his work stands apart from that Folk heritage. He discovered open tunings through listening to Nick Drake and he counts Roscoe Holcomb, Cat Power, Feist and Emmylou Harris as direct influences.
However he comes by it, the distinctively unique music that Matsson makes as The Tallest Man on Earth is powerful, emotive, engaging, haunting and simultaneously heartbreaking and healing.